My Experience With Bipolar Disorder and the Church

I have had Bipolar Disorder since I was twenty years old. I was diagnosed then after some very radical behaviors and being put in the hospital against my will. At the time I was involved in the church and that was my life. However, that quickly changed when the Pastor got ‘wind’ of my illness.

The Pastor was quick to say I was a bitter woman and that’s why I had what was wrong with me. I wasn’t spiritually right with God. Mental illness is from the devil. I think you can get the picture here.

The Pastor obviously was not educated about mental illnesses and refused to be educated. The types of churches I was involved in at the time were very right wing and very close-minded. I quickly decided that I had something wrong with me spiritually. I was also crushed that my own Pastor wouldn’t support me during one of the most hellish times in my life. It took me a long time to realize there was nothing wrong with me other than the Bipolar disorder which is something I can’t control on my own.

Fast forward to today. I still have a Pastor who thinks mental illness can be controlled by the person. I am here to tell you that I personally can’t control it without medication. I asked my Pastor what the difference was between diabetes and mental illness. He was quick to judge that mental illness was still a spiritual problem. I promptly disagreed and walked away.

Right now, we aren’t in church at all. We also have an nine-year old son who is mentally ill. He has been out of control since he was three years old. We have been judged a zillion times over him and his behaviors that we KNOW he can NOT control. We have tried to explain it to those in the church without any success. Curtis is suffering and I have suffered with mental illness and it’s not fair that we are judged as a result.

Now, remember, this is MY experience. Maybe there are some out there who have had a different experience in church. I hope there are many of you who have had a positive experience.

We really need to get the word out to these churches. But how do we do that? I am not so sure how. Maybe you have good ideas. Most of these Pastors and workers are uneducated in the field of mental illness and refuse to learn about it. I have no idea why. Maybe they are scared of it. Maybe they will realize they have a family member or themselves are afflicted.

I personally can’t stand the judgement. Curtis is now in residential care again due to his illness. It’s awful to watch him suffer the way that he does. We love him so much and the 10% of the time he’s happy we enjoy that with all our hearts. He is such a sweet kid and doesn’t deserve to be judged and neither do I or anybody else.

Next time you are in church and you are judged because of your illness my advice is to really think it through first before you approach the Pastor or worker. I just don’t tell anybody anymore. When I have been in the hospital my husband just keeps it quiet and tells others my medications need switched and the hospital is the only place to do that safely. I love that he says that.

I hope in the future that some of these Pastors and workers will get educated and stop judging and out-casting those who are suffering with these types of illnesses.

We are people too and deserve to be understood.

9 thoughts on “My Experience With Bipolar Disorder and the Church

  1. I have had similar experiences in church, so I quit going. Instead, I go to a support group every other Sunday night and also work out on Sunday mornings. I consider those things to be like church for me. I have heard of some people being in churches that are supportive, but I just got tired of looking. If you don’t go to church, doing something special for yourself and your family can be a good replacement. If you really want to go to church, ask around and visit different churches before getting too involved in one church.

  2. I am so sorry that this has happened to you and your family! Our son has bipolar disorder and we have suffered from much judgement and ridicule over the years from churches but mostly from family members. I am a christian and know and believe that Jesus Christ will judge the behavior of these Chritians who have treated His children this way! He teaches us to love one another as He loves us. I pray that you would find a church that you could feel safe with!

  3. I’ve heard so many “pastors” that think the same way….we can control it, we’re in sin, we’re possessed, etc. Actually I my husband actually told me the other day that I need to work harder keeping my bipolar in check, that it was within my control. Uh, hello?

  4. Pingback:Ask a Bipolar» Blog Archive » My Experience With Bipolar Disorder … |

  5. Shari, I did have positive experience when I first became ill. I wasn’t sleeping & I wandered the streets @ night. My bible study group were really supportive & the senior minister told me to drop in any time, even 2am! Rather than wander the streets. The assistant minister spent hours supporting us through that horrible time.

  6. Shari, I can’t begin to tell you how strongly your comments resonated with me…been there, done that with “church!” At heart, the pastor and congregation are just ordinary people, and, if anything, they may be less enlightened than others. Their “faith” interferes with rational thinking and we know what that can do. With regard to my family, there was absolutely NO understanding of bipolar illness when it came to the church community. Due to debilitating medications, my daughter was frequently unable to get to services in the mornings. This was viewed unfavorably. I have often fantasized about the “perfect” church for people with BPD…services would run from 11 am till 5 pm and a support network might be offered within the church community. Too much to ask? My daughter’s “church” often ended up being the various 12 step groups that helped a great deal during difficult periods. But when the bottom line is drawn, there are not many who truly understand the needs of those with BPD so more focus on establishing BPD-centered support organizations is key. It’s a very hurtful situation for BPD who really want to remain connected to the faith community.

  7. From my experience, Unitarian Universalist churches are not like this at all. I get wonderful support from my congregation. At least once a year, my minister delivers a sermon about the need to support people with mental illness. Local church organizations also hold training and workshops about mental health for church volunteers and leaders. The national organization includes the civil rights and care for people with mental illness in its social justice efforts.

  8. I’m sorry you were treated that way. I couldn’t find a confidante, supporter or advocate in churches either. They would talk about me behind my back, too. Some would hurt my feelings on purpose and they (my singles sunday school class) didn’t include me in stuff they did together. So, I quit.

  9. When I married my wife, she was and still is a very religious person, I did not know she was bi-polar. It was until i found out that she was having an affair with the priest and almost at the same time she was hospitalized for an episode. I have tried to help her but everything is fruitless. Now, I do not think it is good for her to go to church and confess, the priest will have a new idea of her past and there is goes again, a new affair. I can not count the number of priest involved with her. We are separated with a child and still will like to help but I do not know how, Any Ideas out there?
    I thank you all in advance.

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